In the six years since April Washington bought her house in south suburban Park Forest, its value has sunk by at least 35 percent, while her property taxes have gone up more than 70 percent.
And in Englewood, Mary Jo Hayden lives in the house her parents bought 52 years ago. It's worth maybe $81,000, which she says is less than its value in 2008, when she took title to the property after her father's death. "We deal with it," says Hayden, who shared the home with family members. "We know this house is worth something, even if it's just memories."
In a broad swath of Chicago's south neighborhoods and suburbs, where a sustained recovery in home values has yet to arrive more than a decade after the housing bust, homeownership has become a different kind of investment. It's detached from the 20th-century notion of steadily advancing home values as a builder of household wealth.
"That was something our parents knew," Davis says, "that owning your home helped you build up your finances. But there were jobs for them for life. Now it feels like what our parents did is out of reach for us. We have to look at it differently. I have a house where my sons and I can live. I can't worry about what it's going to be worth later."
COLD REALITY SPURS NEW THINKING
The shift in mindset is in part an adjustment to the cold reality of a recovery that has lifted some affluent North Side neighborhoods and north suburbs beyond their pre-bust peaks while leaving their southern counterparts waiting.
But it's also something more: It's a nascent movement to rebuild Chicago's once-thriving south, household by household, from the effects of decades of disinvestment, race-based struggle and epidemic violence. "It's counter to the pessimism that exists in our community," says the Rev. Kevin-Andre Brooks, pastor of Greater St. John AME Church, the oldest black church in Englewood. "It's saying we are going to make these into communities where people sit on the front porch, and children play out front, and run up and down the block again."
Brooks and the others say they're fully aware that they are running against a strong headwind, particularly now, amid seemingly unstoppable violence in some Chicago neighborhoods. "But we're not just going to let go of it," Hayden says, "let go of everything our parents built."
The entire story by Dennis Rodkin can be read at Crain 's Chicago Busines